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June 2008

Rail News: Rail Industry

Days of Future Past (and Present)


By Howard Ande

To me, this 1995 view of a Santa Fe double-stack train threading through New Mexico’s Abo Canyon illustrates the past, present and future of railroading. The past is represented by the three locomotives decked out in the Santa Fe “Warbonnet” red, yellow and silver paint scheme. This livery was introduced in the late 1930s to help market the Santa Fe’s new diesel-powered streamliner passenger trains. It’s synonymous with what arguably was the golden age of modern train travel (or the years immediately following World War II). The Warbonnet, made famous on toy and model train sets, was reintroduced in 1989 on Santa Fe diesels.

The present? It’s there, in the ubiquitous double-stacked container train. With the torrent of manufactured goods coming from Pacific Rim countries, a flood of stack trains ply the mainlines of North American railroads. Dozens of these trains traverse the BNSF “Transcon” route — the Santa Fe is now gone, merged with the Burlington Northern more than a decade ago — between the Los Angeles Basin and Chicago. In doing so, they pass through Abo Canyon.

Which brings us to the future. Class Is are scrambling to increase mainline capacity to accommodate the rising tide of traffic, and the sinewy single track that winds through Abo Canyon is the last such bottleneck on the BNSF Transcon — a choke point that’ll soon be eliminated as work progresses to double-track the few miles of single iron in the canyon.

Indeed, railroading’s future looks bright as the economies of steel wheel on steel rail continue to be realized.

Howard Ande is a Bartlett, Ill.-based photographer. He’s been a Progressive Railroading contributor since 1996. Click here to see more of his work.


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